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What is ChatGPT and why does it matter? Here's what you need to know

Updated: This AI chatbot's advanced conversational capabilities have generated quite the buzz. We answer your questions.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you to have human-like conversations and much more with the chatbot. The language model can answer questions and assist you with tasks, such as composing emails, essays, and code.

AlsoHow to use ChatGPT: What you need to know now

It's currently open to use to the public for free because ChatGPT is in its research and feedback-collection phase. A paid subscription version called ChatGPT Plus launched at the beginning of February.

Who made ChatGPT?

ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, an AI and research company. The company launched ChatGPT on November 30, 2022. 

Also: 3 ways OpenAI says we should start to tackle AI regulation

OpenAI is also responsible for creating DALL-E 2, a popular AI art generator, and Whisper, an automatic speech recognition system. 

How big a deal is ChatGPT?

It's a big deal -- think internet-level disruption

"ChatGPT is scary good. We are not far from dangerously strong AI," said Elon Musk, who was one of the founders of OpenAI before leaving. Sam Altman, OpenAI's chief, said on Twitter that ChatGPT had more than one million users in the first five days after it launched. 

Also: ChatGPT: Who's using the AI tool and why?

According to analysis by Swiss bank UBS, ChatGPT is the fastest-growing app of all time. The analysis estimates that ChatGPT had 100 million active users in January, only two months after its launch. For comparison, it took nine months for TikTok to reach 100 million users.

How can you access ChatGPT?

You can access ChatGPT simply by visiting chat.openai.com and creating an OpenAI account. 

You can also still use the old URL for the chatbot, which is chat.openai.com/chat. OpenAI simplified the original URL for user convenience. 

Also: 6 things ChatGPT can't do (and another 20 it refuses to do)

Once you sign in, you can start chatting away with ChatGPT. Get your conversation started by asking a question. Because ChatGPT is still in its research stage, it is free to use and you can ask as many questions as you'd like.

For step-by-step instructions, check out ZDNET's guide on how to start using ChatGPT

As of May 18, you can also access ChatGPT via an app on your iPhone

How much does ChatGPT cost?

ChatGPT is free to use, regardless of what you use it for, including writing, coding, and much more. 

There is a subscription option that users can take advantage of that costs $20/month. The paid subscription model guarantees users extra perks, such as general access even at capacity, faster response times, and access to the internet through plugins. 

AlsoI used ChatGPT to write the same routine in 12 top programming languages. Here's how it did

However, the free version is still a solid option as it has mostly the same technical abilities, with the exception of access to the latest version of the large language model (LLM), known as GPT-4, and the internet, which the subscription model guarantees. 

I tried using ChatGPT and it says it's at capacity. What does that mean?

ChatGPT is still free to use. Because of the stir its advanced capabilities have made, many people are flocking to use it. The website operates using a server, and when too many people hop onto the server, it overloads and can't process your request. 

This doesn't mean you won't ever be able to access it. It just means you should try visiting the site at a later time when fewer people are trying to access the server. You can also keep the tab open and just refresh it periodically. 

Also: Is ChatGPT an effective therapy alternative? 80% of this study's participants thought so

If you want to skip the wait and have reliable access, there is an option for you. OpenAI's ChatGPT pro plan, known as ChatGPT Plus, allows users to have general access even during peak times, experience faster response times, and have priority access to new features and improvements, including OpenAI's most advanced LLM, GPT-4. The premium services cost $20 per month. 

You can also try using Bing's AI chatbot, Bing Chat. This chatbot is free to use, runs on GPT-4, does not have wait times, and has access to the internet. 

How are people using ChatGPT?

The model has many functions in addition to answering simple questions. ChatGPT can compose essays, describe art in great detail, create AI art prompts, have philosophical conversations, and even code for you

Also: 5 ways to use chatbots to make your life easier

My personal favorite use is asking the chatbot for help creating basic lists, such as packing, grocery, and to-do lists to make my daily life more productive. The possibilities are endless. 

ZDNET has published many ChatGPT how-to guides. Here are some of the most popular. 

How to use ChatGPT to: 

How does ChatGPT work?

ChatGPT runs on a language model architecture created by OpenAI called the Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT). The specific GPT used by ChatGPT is fine-tuned from a model in the GPT-3.5 series, according to OpenAI

However, with a subscription to ChatGPT Plus, you can access ChatGPT with GPT-4, Open AI's most advanced model. 

Also: Here's a deep dive into how ChatGPT works 

Generative AI models of this type are trained on vast amounts of information from the internet, including websites, books, news articles, and more. 

The language model was fine-tuned using supervised learning as well as reinforcement learning. The use of Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) is what makes ChatGPT especially unique. Through RLHF, human AI trainers provided the model with conversations in which they played both parts, the user and AI assistants, according to OpenAI

What is the difference between ChatGPT and a search engine?

ChatGPT is a language model created to hold a conversation with the end user. A search engine indexes web pages on the internet to help the user find the information they asked for. The free version of ChatGPT does not have the ability to search the internet for information. It uses the information it learned from training data to generate a response, which leaves room for error. 

Also: Did Google meet the ChatGPT challenge at I/O 2023? ZDNET editors debate

Another major difference is that ChatGPT only has access to information up to 2021, whereas a regular search engine like Google has access to the latest information. So if you ask the free version of ChatGPT who won the World Cup in 2022, it wouldn't be able to give you a response, but Google would. 

If you are a ChatGPT Plus subscriber, you have access to Bing's integration into ChatGPT, which gives the chatbot access to the internet. Since it has the ability to index the web, the major difference between ChatGPT Plus and a search engine is the chatbot's ability to understand natural language prompts and provide conversational answers. 

What are ChatGPT's limitations?

Despite looking very impressive, ChatGPT still has limitations. Such limitations include the inability to answer questions that are worded in a specific way, as it requires rewording to understand the input question. A bigger limitation is a lack of quality in the responses it delivers -- which can sometimes be plausible-sounding but make no practical sense or can be excessively verbose. 

Also: 6 harmful ways ChatGPT can be used by bad actors, according to a new study

Instead of asking for clarification on ambiguous questions, the model just guesses what your question means, which can lead to unintended responses to questions. This limitation has already led developer question-and-answer site StackOverflow to at least temporarily ban ChatGPT-generated responses to questions.

"The primary problem is that while the answers that ChatGPT produces have a high rate of being incorrect, they typically look like they might be good and the answers are very easy to produce," say Stack Overflow moderators in a post. Critics argue that these tools are just very good at putting words into an order that makes sense from a statistical point of view, but they cannot understand the meaning or know whether the statements it makes are correct.

Also: AI could automate 300 million jobs. Here's which are most (and least) at risk

Another major limitation is that ChatGPT's data is limited up to 2021. The chatbot does not have an awareness of events or news that have occurred since then. Lastly, ChatGPT does not provide sources for its responses. 

These two problems, however, were addressed through ChatGPT's integration into Bing as its default search engine. A Bing plugin gives ChatGPT the ability to index the internet and provide citations. The Bing plugin is limited to ChatGPT Plus subscribers at the moment, but will be free for everyone to use in the future.  

Can I chat with ChatGPT?

Although some people are using ChatGPT for some elaborate functions, such as writing code or even malware, you can use ChatGPT for more mundane activities, such as having a friendly conversation. 

Also: Do you like asking ChatGPT questions? You could get paid (a lot) for it

Some conversation starters could be as simple as, "I am hungry, what food should I get?" or as elaborate as, "What do you think happens in the afterlife?" Either way, ChatGPT is sure to have an answer for you. 

Can I chat with GPT-3?

The free version of ChatGPT runs on a model fine-tuned from the 3.5 series, an improved model from the original GPT-3. So if you want to chat with a model in the GPT-3 series, all you have to do is chat with ChatGPT's free version.

AlsoHow to use Bing Chat (and how it's different from ChatGPT)

If you want to use the more advanced LLM in the GPT series, GPT-4, you can become a ChatGPT Plus subscriber or use Bing Chat for free. 

Why are some people worried about ChatGPT?

People are expressing concerns about AI chatbots replacing or atrophying human intelligence. For example, the chatbot can write an article on any topic efficiently (though not necessarily accurately) within seconds, potentially eliminating the need for a human writer. 

Also: Apple restricts employee use of ChatGPT. Here's why

The chatbot can also write an entire full essay within seconds, making it easier for students to cheat or avoid learning how to write properly. This has led to some school districts blocking access to it

Another concern with the AI chatbot is the possible spread of misinformation. Since the bot is not connected to the internet, it could make mistakes in what information it shares. 

Also: AI is more likely to cause world doom than climate change, according to an AI expert

The bot itself says: "My responses are not intended to be taken as fact, and I always encourage people to verify any information they receive from me or any other source." OpenAI also notes that ChatGPT sometimes writes "plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers."  

Is there a tool that can detect ChatGPT text?

With concerns about students using ChatGPT to cheat, the need for a ChatGPT text detector is becoming more evident. 

OpenAI, the AI research company behind ChatGPT, released an imperfect, free tool to target this problem. OpenAI's "classifier" tool can only correctly identify 26% of AI-written text with a "likely AI-written" designation. Furthermore, it provides false positives 9% of the time, incorrectly identifying human-written work as AI-produced work. 

Also: ChatGPT dropped a free app for iPhones. Does it live up to the hype?

Other AI detectors also exist on the market, including GPT-2 Output DetectorWriter AI Content Detector, and Content at Scale AI Content Detection. ZDNET these tools to the test and the results were underwhelming. All three of the tools were found to be unreliable sources for spotting AI, repeatedly giving false negatives. Here are ZDNET's full test results

Although tools aren't sufficient to detect ChatGPT-generated writing, a study shows that humans might be able to detect AI-written text by looking for politeness. The study's results indicate that ChatGPT's writing style is extremely polite. And unlike humans, it cannot produce responses that include metaphors, irony, or sarcasm.

Is ChatGPT a good or bad thing?

ChatGPT is an advanced chatbot that has the potential to both make people's lives easier and assist with everyday tedious tasks, such as writing emails or navigating the web for answers. However, certain technical details have to be figured out before it's widely used to prevent negative outcomes, such as the spread of misinformation. In general, AI and machine learning (ML) models rely on lots of training and fine-tuning to reach a level of ideal performance. 

AlsoHow ChatGPT can rewrite and improve your existing code

So, is AI taking over the world? Not yet, perhaps, but OpenAI's Altman certainly thinks that human-style intelligence in AI is now not that far off. Responding to Musk's comment about dangerously strong AI, Altman tweeted: "I agree on being close to dangerously strong AI in the sense of an AI that poses e.g. a huge cybersecurity risk. and i think we could get to real AGI in the next decade, so we have to take the risk of that extremely seriously too."

Also: Most Americans think AI threatens humanity, according to a poll

He also noted: "interesting watching people start to debate whether powerful AI systems should behave in the way users want or their creators intend. the question of whose values we align these systems to will be one of the most important debates society ever has."

What is GPT-4?

GPT-4 is the newest version of OpenAI's language model systems, and it is much more advanced than its predecessor GPT-3.5, which ChatGPT runs on. 

GPT-4 is a multimodal model that accepts both text and images as input and outputs text. This can be useful for uploading worksheets, graphs, and charts to be analyzed. 

Also: What is GPT-4? Here's everything you need to know

Currently, GPT-4's text-input capabilities are the only ones available to the public. Users can access these functions by subscribing to ChatGPT Plus for $20 per month or by using Bing Chat.

The day that GPT-4 was unveiled by OpenAI, Microsoft shared that its chatbot, Bing Chat, had been running on GPT-4 since its launch. This chatbot is free to use and open to everyone. 

AlsoNow you can access Bing Chat without a Microsoft account

GPT-4 has advanced intellectual capabilities that allow it to outperform GPT-3.5 in a series of simulated benchmark exams. It has also reduced the number of hallucinations produced by the chatbot. 

Are there alternatives to ChatGPT worth considering?

Although ChatGPT is the chatbot getting all the buzz right now, there are other options that are just as good and might even be better suited for your needs. 

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT and other fun alternatives to try

Despite ChatGPT's extensive abilities, there are some major downsides to the AI chatbot, including that the free version is often at capacity. If you want to give the world of AI chatbots and writers a try, there are plenty of other options to consider, including Bing ChatYouChat, Jasper, and Chatsonic.  

Is ChatGPT smart enough to pass benchmark exams?

Yes, ChatGPT is capable of passing a series of benchmark exams. A professor at Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania's business school, used ChatGPT to take an MBA exam and the results were quite impressive. 

ChatGPT not only passed the exam but also scored between a B- and a B. The professor, Christian Terwiesch, was impressed at its basic operations management, process analysis questions, and explanations.  

Also: ChatGPT took an MBA exam. Here's how it did

OpenAI also tested the chatbot's ability to pass benchmark exams. Although ChatGPT could pass many of these benchmark exams, its scores were usually in the lower percentile. However, with GPT-4, ChatGPT can score much higher.

For example, ChatGPT in the 3.5 series scored in the lower 10th percentile of a simulated Bar Exam, while GPT-4 scored in the top 10th percentile. More examples from OpenAI are seen in the chart below. 

ChatGPT-4 capabilities
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Can ChatGPT be used for job application assistance?

Yes, ChatGPT is a great resource to help with job applications. Undertaking a job search can be tedious and difficult, and ChatGPT can help you lighten the load. ChatGPT can build your resume and write a cover letter. 

AlsoHow to use ChatGPT to write an essay

If your application has any written supplements in addition to your cover letter, you can use ChatGPT to help you write those essays or personal statements

What does ChatGPT have to do with plugins?

Plugins allow ChatGPT to connect to third-party applications, including access to real-time information on the web. 

AlsoLook out, Bing. ChatGPT is getting access to the internet, too

The plugins expand ChatGPT's abilities, allowing it to assist with many more activities, such as planning a trip or finding a place to eat. 

There are over 70-plus third-party plugins, including Expedia, Zillow, Kayak, Instacart, OpenTable, Klarna, Fiscal Note, and more. The use of plugins is currently limited to ChatGPT Plus subscribers.

AlsoOpenAI unveils ChatGPT plugins, but there's a catch

OpenAI disclosed that it chose to go the plugin route to connect ChatGPT to the internet because it was the most secure option to avoid hallucinations and it curtails risks involved with connecting a language model to an external tool like the internet.

Is ChatGPT coming to social media?

ChatGPT's first appearance in the social media space is its collaboration with Snapchat. On February 7, Snapchat unveiled an integration of ChatGPT that will allow Snapchat+ subscribers to chat with the bot within its app. 

The feature, called "My AI", will include some ChatGPT limitations, including the refusal to provide responses about politics, violence, swearing, and even academic essay writing, according to The Verge.

TikTok is also testing an in-app AI chatbot that would enable users to learn more about the videos on their FYP and lead them to more relevant content in TikTok. 

What is Microsoft's involvement with ChatGPT?

Microsoft was an early investor in OpenAI, the AI research company behind ChatGPT, long before ChatGPT was released to the public. Microsoft's first involvement with OpenAI was in 2019 when Microsoft invested $1 billion, and then $2 billion in the years after. In January, Microsoft extended its partnership with OpenAI through a multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment.

Also: Microsoft embraces OpenAI's ChatGPT plugin standard

Neither company disclosed the investment value, but sources revealed it will total $10 billion over multiple years, according to Bloomberg. In return, Microsoft's Azure service will be OpenAI's exclusive cloud-computing provider, powering all OpenAI workloads across research, products, and API services.

Microsoft has also used its partnership with OpenAI to revamp its own Bing search engine and improve its browser. 

On February 7, Microsoft unveiled a new Bing search engine that runs on a next-generation OpenAI large language model, GPT-4, customized specifically for search. Bing Chat has been a success, helping Bing to exceed 100 million daily active users.

Also: ChatGPT vs. Bing Chat: Which AI chatbot should you use?

The latest partnership development was announced at Microsoft Build, where Microsoft said that Bing would become ChatGPT's default search engine. This integration will grant ChatGPT access to the web and the ability to provide citations. 

What does Bing Chat have to do with ChatGPT?

In early February, Microsoft unveiled a new version of Bing -- and its standout feature is its integration with ChatGPT. When it was announced, Microsoft shared that Bing Chat was powered by a next-generation version of OpenAI's large language model, making it "more powerful than ChatGPT". 

Five weeks after launch, Microsoft revealed that, since its launch, Bing Chat had been running on GPT-4, the most advanced Open AI model, before the model even launched. 

On May 22, Microsoft announced that it is bringing Bing to ChatGPT as the chatbot's default search experience. This integration will fix two major problems with ChatGPT, including access to current events and the ability to provide citations. 

How does Bing Chat compare to ChatGPT?

Bing Chat uses OpenAI's most advanced large language model, GPT-4, and as a result is more efficient and capable than the standard, free version of ChatGPT. 

Another advantage that Bing Chat has over ChatGPT is access to the internet. Web access gives Bing Chat knowledge on current information, while the free version of ChatGPT is limited to knowledge before 2021. 

Bing Chat also sources back to the sites it sourced its information from using footnotes, whereas the free version of ChatGPT does not. 

For a full dive into the differences, and a consideration of which AI chatbot is better for you, check out: ChatGPT vs. Bing Chat: Which AI chatbot should you use?

What is Google Bard and how does it relate to ChatGPT?

Bard is Google's AI chat service, a rival to ChatGPT. On February 6, Google introduced its experimental AI chat service. Over a month after the announcement, Google began rolling out access to Bard via a waitlist.

Also: What is Google Bard? Here's everything you need to know

Bard uses a lightweight version of Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) and draws on all the information from the web to respond -- a stark contrast from ChatGPT, which does not have internet access. 

Google's chat service had a rough launch, with a demo of Bard delivering inaccurate information about the James Webb Space Telescope.

Google told ZDNET reporter Stephanie Condon in a statement: "This highlights the importance of a rigorous testing process, something that we're kicking off this week with our Trusted Tester program." 

After Google began rolling out the chatbot, ZDNET had the opportunity to test the chatbot and the results were surprising in a bad way.

How does Google Bard compare to ChatGPT?

ChatGPT's advanced capabilities blow Google Bard's out of the water. Even though Google Bard has access to the internet and ChatGPT's free version does not, it fails to produce answers much more often than ChatGPT. 

Also: Bard vs. ChatGPT: Can Bard help you code?

For example, Google Bard fails to answer, "Who are all of the US Presidents?" and responds with, "I'm just a language model, so I can't help you with that." It also fails to answer some coding questions and math questions. 

For more details, visit ZDNET's full review

Google CEO Sundar Pichai even called Bard 'a souped-up Civic' soon after its rollout compared to other chatbots on the market, such as ChatGPT and Bing Chat. 

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